In 1894, the same year that the Children's Charter extended new legal protection to the young, the English painter Thomas Gotch portrayed his young daughter in majesty like a Madonna by Duccio, with a huge nimbus around her head, and called the image The Child Enthroned. Concurrently, the Swiss Ferdinand Hodler celebrated the birth of his son with an equally awed work, The Chosen One, in which the newborn and naked baby lies on the ground like a Christ Child in a Nativity painting, with a watch of winged spirits hovering a foot off the ground around him. In both images, mothers are altogether absent, and fathers are present only by implication, as votaries before the icon they are creating. The child is isolated in glory, a being in human form but quasi-divine, not quite contiguous with the adult world. As Robert Rosenblum observes in his stimulating and characteristically original essay, The Romantic Child, Hodler's celebration - like Gotch's - lacks some of the raw and peculiar passion of the early Romantics. The children are still represented as preternaturally different, still cast as creatures possessed with a virtuality that their progenitors can never match, but sentimentality has blurred the unsettling adoration of the primitive found in the art of the German visionaries Philip Otto Runge and Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
LRB 6 July 1989 | PDF Download